Even though the Internet is, in theory, a technology which opens the floodgates and makes the acquisition of information more fluid, more chaotic, and more free, the simple truth is that as a result of that (over-)abundance, we feel the need to divide lest we forget how to conquer. What hypothetically should enable us to digest music without its labels ultimately leads us to label it even more ridiculously than we did before, to compartmentalise in new, almost innovative ways just in order to construct a road-map through the hell of cyberspace and the ideas with which we’re presented.
This isn’t exactly a revelation, but what interests me is the way we handle it when an unexpected event screws with our neat ideas of what constitutes good, bad, pop, metal: how do we adjust when someone moves the goalposts artistically? This has to be a test, because no person is capable of removing the art they’re experiencing entirely from its context or from the discourses surrounding it. Would that it were possible, but it isn’t.
So when Bon Iver punched through the speakers to deliver the curveball that was “Woods” way back on his Blood Bank EP, everyone went insane. You’ll recall that this was a point, distant though it now may seem, when Justin Vernon was still in most regards a cult superstar and perceived as a lonely, bearded guy with a guitar. Nobody expected anything else from him; if they claim they did, they’re having you on.…
Let me preface this by stating outright that there are better ways to go about wooing the female object of your desire. In most cases, being yourself will do the trick. There is no substitute for self-confidence, and slyly passing along a once blank CD upon which you poured your heart and soul to a near stranger will only win you an awkward look – or a restraining order. However, a well thought out mixtape, delivered at the right time, can be a very romantic gesture. Whether you are courting a girl or have been dating her for quite some time, there are a few simple preliminary rules we should go over before I delve into our first lesson in the art of mixtaping.
First, you should never, never, ever create a mixtape for someone you LITERALLY JUST MET. A mixtape is supposed to say something, either about her or yourself, and there is nothing of romantic value that you can possibly need to divulge after spending twenty-five minutes chatting at the food court and sharing a Wendy’s frosty. If you come on too strong, you, like that frosty, will soon be nonexistent in her eyes, capisce? Okay, now that we have established what was hopefully obvious, let’s take a look at rule number two. PERSONALIZE IT. The trick is that you want her to think of you when she hears the songs, so try to steer clear of more popular items that she may have already associated a…
Here’s another glare from Stephin Merritt, and this time it’s a reminder: before this non-synth triology of nonsense was a late ’80s, early Indie band falling into the new decade with nothing but the tricks they’d been taught to survive. Tricks which they had failed at, anyway, because of Merritt himself, hands in his face and eyes rolling. It’s funny, because The Magnetic Fields would have been a big contradiction of terms– a breezy synth-pop band with a droning, insulting genius propelling them– if it wasn’t for Merritt’s attention to detail (or: attention to himself). The synthesizers of Holiday didn’t exactly sparkle for the sun shining on them, and why would they? Merritt’s never really gone for the sugary-sweet fare of twee’s higher-ups, writing a lyric like “under more stars than there are prostitues in Thailand” when he might have learned a more romantic sentiment from silliness like “la la love you.”
But Merritt is not silly. He’s like the version of himself Scott Walker sees before ghosts teach him to love Christmas, using the synthesizer as a tool to turn the theatrical into a pantomine, from the aliens-do-country road trips of Highway Strip to his definitely-ironic retelling of how people love on 69 Love Songs. He’s spoiling movies and ruining stories, and “Andrew In Drag” is a track, weirdly, in the spirit of those two records, downbeat and hysterical but told deadly serious, like the man rolling his eyes now and forever. And it’ll make sense in context,…
I mean, I kind of do. This should be my year-end feature, where I put the albums I liked in an arbitrary list so you can understand how I experienced the past twelve months. But how could I write that when I have no fucking idea what happened the past twelve months? So instead I’m writing this: an attempt to make sense of the most bizarre year– of music, of life, of culture– that I’ve ever experienced. I don’t think I’m going to succeed. What’s to follow is a self-indulgent rant on phenomenal music I didn’t really get, my bewilderment over the critical reception to Bon Iver, and a Channing-esque query as to what music even means to me anymore. But I have to do this. Even if I don’t know why.
I don’t think I’m alone. The entire year, I got the sense that nobody really knew what was happening in 2011 but just sort of ran with it. Reading the various year end write-ups across the internet, I’m comforted to see at least a couple other publications acknowledge of how weird this year was. SPIN, for example, is all about it. They seem excited about where this directionless quagmire is going to take us in the future. I’m fucking terrified of it.
It’s an old argument, but even as an internet writer, I have to admit the internet is over-saturating culture. To paraphrase Milan Kundera, we no longer live in a…
An interesting year that was: notably lacking any clear frontrunner for that coveted “album of the year” title recently occupied by Kanye West (not here, but that’s besides the point) and Animal Collective, it was nevertheless filled to the brim with brilliant music that often dealt with “pop” in some capacity, be it eschewal of its conventions or brazen embracement of its occasionally unsavory tendencies. Merrill Garbus did the former and, in the process, acted on the limitless potential of pop’s universality – a useful technique, considering that w h o k i l l was, more than anything, a record that, in the words of a certain Maya Arulpragasam, “put people on the map that never seen a map”. Gang Gang Dance and Dan Bejar released two of the year’s most critically acclaimed albums by adopting the latter method; both Eye Contact and Kaputt found effortlessly distinctive vocals surrounded by garish sonic touches, presented mostly without irony.
Look I know this looks like a big wall of text, and believe me it really is, but I sort of have a point. First off, it’s true I’m lazy and I’ve spent my entire Christmas break applying for Graduate Schools (get a real job amirite?) and frankly the last thing I want to do this Christmas Eve is hunt down images and work on layout for a few hours. I didn’t even vote in the staff best of (so don’t blame me). Most importantly though a thousand words are worth a picture so maybe these words might paint an appropriate year-in-review. As the title suggests, this has been a year where the 80s have ruled supreme; I want to dedicate this entire year, actually, to the under-appreciated 80s electro-pop duo OMD. Saxophones, keyboards, sex, and hazy soundscapes of drunken post-Sharon Stone effluence and tumescence dominated the sounds of the year—canticles of vanity in the best way possible. M83, Destroyer, and Bon Iver were big movers this year and they ultimately define this sound.
It was a good year. It was not a great year; certainly not a great year in respect to 2010. There were some stellar recordings, but there wasn’t too much fight in reaching my top 25. Feist’s Metals, The Dodo’s No Color, Bill Calahan’s Apocalypse, Phonte’s Charity Starts at Home are significant runners-up, and I never did get to The Roots’ Undun or WU LYF. Once the 25 was set, the order
You may remember me from such adventures as: the last few years and generally stealthing around like a motherfucker while letting Jom take all the blame for the real shit that went down.
Last year, I counted in Christmas with 12 days of excellent (and some not so excellent, but topical) Christmas songs. I’d intended to reprise the series this year but, as one or two of you might have noticed, I’ve taken my leave from this place, and Christmas seems as good a time as any to say a formal goodbye and let you know I’m not going to be back.
I won’t patronise you all by saying it’s been a pleasure. Mederating Sputnik is a labour of love but it is hard and, ultimately, unrewarding work. I have had good times taking care of this place over the years, but I urge you to spare a thought for Trey, Jom and Chan. They do an incredible amount of work that you never see – every single instance of bullshit you pull falls squarely on their shoulders and quite frankly they’ve all got more important things in their lives.
Well, not Chan.
But seriously, I’d like to leave on a positive note. Sputnik is a great place to learn – it’s afforded me the tools to become a professional writer and I’m sure I won’t be the only one. Sputnik was built on a sense of community and…
I always used to think of new year’s resolutions as an inane exercise. Whoever conceived the idea seemed to be proposing that we should only target improvement once a year, a notion that we all would dismiss promptly and adamantly. As inconsequential of a gesture as it is, the new year’s resolution has actually begun to carry some weight to me. I don’t view it as a single goal for for the next 365 days, but rather as an impetus for change. For example, my 2011 resolution was to get a “real person” job. It’s not like I wasn’t providing a valuable service to the community at my local grocery store, but as a college graduate with a B.A. in mathematics and a B.S. in education, it was rather underwhelming…even considering the abysmal state that the economy was in. I was always on the prowl for a career-oriented opportunity, but I knew that I wasn’t completely applying myself. That admission alone was enough to compel me to set a clear, definable goal – and it just so happened that the new year (and new year’s resolutions, subsequently) coincided perfectly with my desire to take my professional life to the next level. I put myself on a strict weekly schedule for submitting applications, made an effort to visit more potential employers on location, and I even branched out and started my own tutoring program. It only took three months to pay off. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have gotten a…
I go back and forth on whether time passes too slowly or too quickly, but either way, I’m surprised every year when it’s time to make another list. It’s always nice to go back and revisit albums that came out earlier in the year; the memories they evoke are a nice gauge of how good or bad the year was. Merry Christmas to everyone on Sputnik, and I hope you all have positive memories when you make your own lists.
25. Childish Gambino – Camp
Community has become one of my favorite television shows ever, and that’s the only reason that I listened to this album. I didn’t listen to Watch the Throne or Goblin or undun or really any other hip-hop album that came out this year. I just haven’t really been in the mood. But I’m glad that I listened to Camp, because it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable listens of the year. It’s catchy but that’s not really it. A lot of people have criticized Donald Glover for his lyrics, and I’m certainly willing to concede that some of them are pretty bad, but this is probably the album that made me listen most attentively this year. By the end of my first listen, I really felt like I’d been on a journey, like I’d gotten to know Glover a little bit. There’s a lot of confusion on Camp – most of the record…
I’m sorry for the TL;DR length of this. I guess I rambled a lot. And secondly, I apologise for the quality, which might be the result of a late 5 hour rush through this. It has been a very good year.
All of these are lovely Sputnik 4.5s, I would say. Unless they’re 5s. Enjoy!
Dananananaykroyd– There Is a Way
When I saw these guys play their last show in Leeds (ever!) on their last tour of the universe as we know it, I sort of felt like I was hitching a ride. Everyone else seemed so clued in on these guys, so it was like the outside of post-hardcore’s very own in-joke, one that only makes sense when you see how joyous an experience they are. There’s the hair ruffling—which I was on the receiving end of—and the wall of death that converts death into hugs. Most will tell you that prior knowledge of their albums is pointless, and it kind of was that way: I could pick up every chant of “da na na na!” as it bounced from fan to fan. It was the gig first for this band, but going back to There Is a Way felt wholly satisfying to me- I was able to see where one ridiculous song ended and where the next began. The two best—“Think and Feel” followed by the stomping “Muscle…
Before I’m lambasted for only putting only six albums on my ‘best of 2011′ list, I’d like to mention a couple of things. One: I’ve digested less music this year than any of the last five or six, and two: there were plenty of albums which I liked but clearly had no place on a ‘best of’ list, especially in a top ten. The lack of discovery isn’t due to any ‘personal issues’ or ‘other commitments’ (though I have been really busy). I’ve just fallen ‘out of love’ with new music a bit this year, and I don’t know whether that’s due to me or the music, but, regardless, something isn’t quite right. I hope to find myself back in the game next year. The quality of reviews/reviewers on this site has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years (seriously, even some of the user reviews blow me away) and I’d be foolish not to want to be a part of that. Anyway….
Inspired by Hemingway’s six word story (after being reminded of its brilliance in Knott’s lyrics post a couple weeks back), I challenged myself to go one better and write my best of 2011 with mini reviews that had only half the word count. It wasn’t easy. Some might say it required even more effort than those writing 500+ words. Others know me better than that. In no order:
Hi. My name is Adam. I’m 22, I speak three languages, and I don’t believe in god. When I was 15 I got my heart broken and fell into radio pop-punk, which put it back together again without even thinking twice. Since then, I’ve gradually fallen deeper and deeper into music; I discovered post-rock through God Is An Astronaut and dubstep through Burial, and as it grew more dizzying it got more important. I love music.
Is it so wrong to admit that? And yet, almost every professional music publication in the world denies the humanity behind both its writers and its readers by presenting itself as wholly impartial. Critique 101 reads as follows: “don’t refer to yourself in the first-person; it looks unprofessional.” Is that what “professionalism” means now – detachment? How can you expect people to take seriously any article whose author claims that what he’s written is not a reflection of himself? Why would you want to? People don’t listen to music in a state of disconnect; whatever’s playing right now, the chances are that it’s making you feel something. So why would you ever want to even pretend that the best way to talk about music is by taking five or ten steps back? Or even one?
There is simply no such thing as an objective stance on music. OK Computer is not better than “Friday” by Rebecca Black. Sorry. I wish beyond all limits that it were possible to say so, but there are definitely…
Halloween draws to a close and I found myself wandering home off the bus listening to Red House Painter’s “Katy Song” on the moonlit path and thinking about words and music. I had just finished conducting a seminar on the “Sirens” episode of Ulysses. For those not familiar with the text I will explain it briefly: Joyce writes an entire chapter in a bar scene and structures it as a fugue. The language serves a tripled purpose—narrative, thematic, and sound qualities. Snippets of songs and of important lines in the book are refrained and build one on top of the other fuga per canonem. So I was churning over thoughts of language patterns, phonetics and word associations, when I began thinking about nachtmusik. There is no real reason to actually associate certain kinds of music to the night, just as there’s no real reason why Ulysses should be considered Joyce’s masterpiece of the day and Finnegans Wake his masterpiece of the night. These concepts are purely constructs of the mind, for whatever reason we do it; the Real, idleness, nostalgia, kernelization of sound.
Then it hit me: night music is night music for the same reason that language is the perpetual creative act. Because language is the highest echelon of creativity; we have our set rules (grammar) but beyond that there are infinite ways to construct a sentence (ask Kafka) and infinite ways to combine phonemes to create neologisms (ask Joyce). The same goes for music; these chords sound nice…
Music does a lot of different things to a lot of different people but I think what I love about it the most is the way it can condense and translate the most complicated and screwed-up ideas, situations or emotions into a song, or (better) just a single line. Some artists have the capacity to say in a word what would take most people a paragraph. I think of Hemingway’s response to a friend’s wager that he couldn’t write a story in six words: For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn. I think what this kind of beautiful expression needs is a connection at the front end so powerful that instinct takes over and says it for you.
Sometimes artists express things in simple ways and it rules, LOOK, songs!
The Mountain Goats – Old College Try
I wanna say I’m sorry for stuff I haven’t done yet; things will shortly get completely out of hand.
I’m just delving into the Mountain Goats discography and I get the feeling this isn’t the only line he’s written that could fit on this list. To me, this line sums up that feeling of unavoidable chaos where you know you’re strapped into a ride that you should technically be able to stop but really, really can’t. What I absolutely adore about the way he phrases it is that it’s so matter-of-fact it almost makes it seem not his fault. Or mine.
I don’t know about you, but oftentimes I find myself analyzing the music behind a movie just as much as the film itself. It’s difficult to determine to what extent a soundtrack influences my opinion of a movie’s quality…technically it shouldn’t, but I always favor movies with indie-geared soundtracks (500 Days of Summer, Garden State) all the same. It’s something that annoys the hell out of my friends, which is why I’m not sure if this is common or if there is just something really wrong with me. But anyway, I glanced through my library and pulled out notable soundtracks (some good, others very bad) and decided to evaluate them for their contributions to the movie and their overall quality. Since it’s Halloween today, let’s begin with Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas:
The Nightmare Before Christmas
This is one of those movies with a cult following, and I totally get why. It’s stunningly original, visually appealing for its time, and it features a thoroughly enjoyable plot. For music enthusiasts, the soundtrack has to be another reason. It follows the storyline extremely closely, sometimes even narrating through song or spoken word (via Danny Elfman). It has been remade, but nothing touches the original which, if you ask me, is a classic.
Sample: “This Is Halloween” by Danny Elfman
Across The Universe
Now this one I never understood the hype for. I was a sophomore in college…